Passive houses (PassiveHaus buildings) are super-insulated and very air-tight homes, especially designed for cold climates, able to cut the consumption of energy to a small fraction, say, 70% or more, compared to average buildings.
These homes can provide high levels of comfort without the use of central furnaces or boilers.
But how do they get the heat they need to keep people comfortable, without a large heating and cooling system?
Their secrete is in their design and standards, and their air-tightness and massive thermal insulation.
Passive houses are able to reduce heat loss to the minimum. And because of it, they do not need large heating systems to be comfortable, even in the coldest climates.
Small ductless heat pumps (mini-split heat pumps) can meet all their space heating and cooling needs, even in the coldest climates.
German-style passive houses (Passivhaus) rely on very high levels of thermal insulation (super-insulation) and air-tightness, and high-performance windows. They do need large heating systems because airtightness and super-insulation standards can reduce heat loss to very low levels.
Passive houses rely on small heating systems.
For instance: mini-split heat pumps (which can now be very effective in climates with freezing temperatures) or ductless gas furnaces (direct vent furnaces) or PV (photovoltaic electric systems) connected to heat pumps or other electric heating systems.
Solar Heat gains
Ideally, passive houses should also be properly oriented to the sun, and use some of the principles of passive solar heating in order to get solar heat gains during the winter.
Buildings properly oriented to the sun, with well sized and located windows, will need less mechanical heat to be comfortable.
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